"Ana Mafi Khouf Min Kafeel": Counter-Narratives in Comedic Video Representations of Migrant Workers in the Arab Gulf States
In the Arab Gulf States, migrant workers are perceived as temporary and economic by dominant nationalist narratives that justify restrictive migration policies and exclusive citizenship laws. This article argues that online popular culture productions offer a space for the emergence of counter-narratives that assert the presence of migrants and advocate social change from below. I examine representations of South Asian workers in short comic skits and song videos produced during the last decade by comedians and actors in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Focusing on both aesthetic innovation and limitations, my analysis demonstrates how these videos utilize parody and satire to criticize the exclusion of migrant workers. I compare videos produced by Gulf citizens and non-citizens and argue that, even though the producers navigate different boundaries and offer distinct performances, they challenge authority and national boundaries by centralizing spaces of labor and turning them into sites of agency and cultural expression.
Akinci, Idil. “Culture in the ‘Politics of Identity’: Conceptions of National Identity and Citizenship Among Second-Generation Non-Gulf Arab Migrants in Dubai.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 46, no. 11 (2019): 2309–25. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369183X.2019.1583095.
Al-Rasheed, Madawi. “Introduction: Localizing the Transnational and Transnationalizing the Local.” In Transnational Connections and the Arab Gulf, ed. Al-Rasheed, 1–18. London: Routledge, 2005.
Al-Rasheed, Madawi and Robert Vitalis. “Introduction.” In Counter-Narratives: History, Contemporary Society, and Politics in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, edited by Al-Rasheed and Vitalis, 1–10. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781403981318.
Alhazza, Hamad Mohammad S. Social Marginalisation in the Saudi Novel between 1990 and 2011. PhD diss., University of Manchester, 2014.
Babar, Zahra. “The Cost of Belonging: Citizenship Construction in the State of Qatar.” The Middle East Journal 68, no. 3 (2014): 403–20. https://doi.org/10.3751/68.3.14.
Babar, Zahra R. “The Vagaries of the In-Between: Labor Citizenship in the Persian Gulf.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 52 (2020): 765–70. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0020743820001075.
Bizri, Fida. “Pidgin as a Counterlanguage: Asian Labour Migrants and Arab Employers Speaking.” Language Ecology 2, no. 1–2 (2018): 128–46. https://doi.org/10.1075/le.18005.biz.
Brah, Avtar. Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities. London: Routledge, 1996.
Carapico, Sheila. “Arabia Incognita: An Invitation to Arabian Peninsula Studies.” In Counter-Narratives: History, Contemporary Society, and Politics in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, edited by Al-Rasheed and Vitalis, 11–33. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781403981318_2.
Chalcraft, John. “Monarchy, Migration and Hegemony in the Arabian Peninsula.” Kuwait Programme on Development, Governance and Globalization in the Gulf States, Working Paper No. 12, 2010.
Choudhary, Faez. “Bait Kafeel” (Kafeel’s House). The Khalli Walli Show, 28 July 2014, video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1baJsEccPZo&list=WL&index=7.
Choudhary, Faez. “Why This Khalli Walli Remake – Khalli Walli bil Saudi.” The Khalli Walli Show, 8 May 2013, video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfTWHanqYSc&list=WL&index=6&t=2s.
Damir-Geilsdorf, Sabine and Michaela Pelican. “Between Regular and Irregular Employment: Subverting the Kafala System in the GCC Countries.” Migration and Development 8, no. 2 (2019): 155–75. https://doi.org/10.1080/21632324.2018.1479215.
Damir-Geilsdorf, Sabine and Stephan Milich. “Forms and Functions of Political Humor in Arab Societies: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives.” In Creative Resistance: Political Humor in the Arab Uprisings, edited by Damir-Geilsdorf and Milich, 9–50. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783839440698-001.
Davies, Helen and Sarah Ilott. “Mocking the Weak? Contexts, Theories, Politics.” In Comedy and the Politics of Representation: Mocking the Weak, edited by Davies and Ilott, 1–24. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-90506-8_1.
El Alaoui, Khadija, Azza Ibrahim Alajlan, and Maura A. E. Pilotti. “Nailing It à la Saudi: Satire and the Subject in Times of Crisis.” Arabian Humanities 14 (2020). doi.org/10.4000/cy.6292. https://doi.org/10.4000/cy.6292.
El Hamamsy, Walid and Mounira Soliman. “Introduction: Popular Culture – A Site of Resistance.” In Popular Culture in the Middle East and North Africa: A Postcolonial Outlook, edited by El Hamamsy and Soliman, 1–8. New York: Routledge, 2013. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203098653.
Fakih, Marwa Ihsan. “The Saudi YouTube Phenomenon: From Anarchism to Institutionalism.” In Everyday Youth Cultures in the Arabian Peninsula: Changes and Challenges, edited by Emanuela Buscemi and Ildikó Kaposi, 35–51. London: Routledge, 2021. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003048626-4.
Fakih, Marwa. “Social Media Influencers in the Arab Gulf States.” The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, 7 November 2018. https://agsiw.org/social-media-influencers-in-the-gulf-arab-states/.
Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Elena. “Introduction: Recentering the South in Studies of Migration.” Migration and Society 3, no. 1 (2020): 1–18. https://doi.org/10.3167/arms.2020.030102.
Gardner, Andrew M. City of Strangers: Gulf Migration and the Indian Community in Bahrain. New York: Cornell University Press, 2010. https://doi.org/10.26530/OAPEN_627411.
Hanieh, Adam. Capitalism and Class in the Gulf Arab States. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230119604.
Hassan, Rashid. “The ‘Khalli Walli’ Show: Comedy for Awareness.” Arab News, 21 May 2014, https://www.arabnews.com/news/574121.
Hubail, Fatima. “From Kuwait’s Margins to Tolaytila’s Mainstream: Sheno Ya3ni Challenging Social Positioning through Dystopian Satire.” In Creative Resistance: Political Humor in the Arab Uprisings, edited by Damir-Geilsdorf and Milich, 259–96. Bielefeld: Transcript-Verlag, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783839440698-011.
Hudson, Dale. “UAE Filmmaking Beyond Arabization, Cosmopolitanism and Exceptionalism.” Arabian Humanities 14 (2020). https://doi.org/10.4000/cy.6297.
Jones, Marc Owen. “Satire, Social Media and Revolutionary Cultural Production in the Bahrain Uprising: From Utopian Fiction to Political Satire.” Communication and the Public 2, no. 2 (2017): 136–53. https://doi.org/10.1177/2057047317706372.
Kanna, Ahmed. “A Politics of Non-Recognition? Biopolitics of Arab Gulf Worker Protests in the Year of Uprisings.” Interface 4, no. 1 (2012): 146–64.
Kanna, Ahmed, Amélie Le Renard, and Neha Vora. Beyond Exception: New Interpretations of the Arabia Peninsula. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010.
Kareem, Mona. “From Rap to Trap: The Khaliji Migrant Finds His Aesthetic.” Arabian Humanities, 14 (2020. https://doi.org/10.4000/cy.6285.
Karolak, Magdalena. “Music for Thought: Examining Saudi Identities Expressed through Music on Social Media.” In Gulf Cooperation Council Culture and Identities in the New Millennium: Resilience, Transformation, (Re)Creation and Diffusion, edited by Karolak and Nermin Allam, 159–78. Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-1529-3_9.
“The Khalli Walli Show Yaskhar min Zolm Ba‘d al-Kufala’” (The Khalli Walli Show Mocks the Injustice of Some Sponsors), The Khalli Walli Show, 16 November 2016, video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FAmVPa2mp4&list=WL&index=3.
Longva, Anh Nga. “Citizenship in the Gulf States: Conceptualization and Practice.” In Citizenship and the State in the Middle East: Approaches and Applications, edited by Nils A. Butenschøn, Uri Davis, and Manuel Hassassian, 179–97. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000.
Lori, Noora. Offshore Citizens: Permanent Temporary Status in the Gulf. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108632560.
Mostafa, Dalia Said, Nicola Pratt, and Dina Rezk. “New Directions in the Study of Popular Culture and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa.” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies (2021): 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1080/13530194.2021.1885854
Pelham, Nicolas. “The Medicis in the Desert.” Economist, 31 May 2018. https://www.economist.com/1843/2018/05/31/the-medicis-in-the-desert.
Ramsay, Gilbert and Sumayah Fatani. “The New Saudi Nationalism of the New Saudi Media.” In Political Islam and Global Media: The Boundaries of Religious Identity, edited by Noha Mellor and Khalil Rinnawi. London: Routledge, 2016. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315637129-12.
Sabry, Abdulfattah. al-‘Amala al-Wafida wa-Atharoha fil Adab al-Imarati [Expatriate Labor and its Impact on Emirati Literature]. Cairo: al-Dar al-Thaqafiyya Lil Nashr, 2008.
Sater, James. “Citizenship and Migration in Arab Gulf Monarchies.” In Migration, Security, and Citizenship in the Middle East: New Perspectives, edited by Peter Seeberg and Zaid Eyadat, 27–42. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137345417_2.
Sater, James. “Migration and the Marginality of Citizenship in the Arab Gulf Region: Human Security and High Modernist Tendencies.” In The Crisis of Citizenship in the Arab World, edited by Roel Meijer and Nils Butenschøn, 224–45. Leiden: Brill, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004340985_010.
Sharif, Ahmed (@a.Sharif92). “Tel‘u Min hayatna – al-Juz’ al-Awwal” (Get Out of Our Lives – Part One). Instagram video, 30 July 2016. www.instagram.com/p/BIe0CB3gVW4/
Sharif, Ahmed. “Tel‘u Min Hayatna – al-Juz’ al-Thani” (Get Out of Our Lives – Part Two). Instagram video, 31 July 2016. www.instagram.com/p/BIhZQsuAKo7/.
Sharif, Ahmed (@a.Sharif92). “Shfeek, Hindi ’Int!” (What, Are You Indian!). Instagram video, 24 April 2018, www.instagram.com/p/Bh8yhzjlfBH/.
Telfaz11 “About.” Accessed 30 July 2021. https://telfaz11.com/about.
Telfaz11. “Al-Jisr / Abdulkhaliq – Kafeel.” Al-Jisr, 24 February 2015, video, www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7MHRRcHah0.
Telfaz11. “Al-Jisr / Tamees.” Al-Jisr, 6 March 2019, video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9kts0sKtIA.
Tripp, Charles. “Political Thinking Performed: Popular Cultures as Arenas of Consent and Resistance.” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies (2021): 7–23. https://doi.org/10.1080/13530194.2021.1885856.
Vora, Neha. Impossible Citizens: Dubai’s Indian Diaspora (London: Duke University Press, 2013. https://doi.org/10.1515/9780822397533.
Vora, Neha and Amélie Le Renard. “Who Is ‘Indian’ in the Gulf? Race, Labor and Citizenship.” Middle East Report Online, 16 June 2021. https://merip.org/2021/06/who-is-indian-in-the-gulf-race-labor-and-citizenship/.
Vora, Neha and Natalie Koch. “Everyday Inclusions: Rethinking Ethnocracy, Kafala, and Belonging in the Arabian Peninsula.” Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism 15, no. 3 (2015): 540–52. https://doi.org/10.1111/sena.12158.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.